Inside TV+Movies with Daniel Fienberg
CEOs learn that life is hard for their employees, earning an hour-long commercial for their pains
Larry O'Donnell of 'Undercover Boss'
There's a theme that runs through CBS' populist-skewing advertisements for "Undercover Boss": In these troubling economic times, there's something cathartic about watching CEOs and CFOs brought down to the level of their lowest employees, something liberating about watching the boss of a mega-corporation humbled and forced to see how the other 99 percent live.
CBS is counting on the universality of that statement ring true for Super Bowl viewers when "Undercover Boss" has its special premiere on Sunday (Feb. 6), because nothing in the show itself feels even vaguely truthful.
"Undercover Boss" is manipulative, exploitative and meretricious to its very core and, given those attributes, it wouldn't surprise me in the least if it's a big hit for CBS.
[Full review of "Undercover Boss" after the break...]
Expect Claire Danes to get Emmy buzz for this based-on-fact telefilm
'Temple Grandin' star Claire Danes
One of the most interesting trends currently making its way through the small screen collective consciousness is an embrace of normalized, unacknowledged autism. Whether we're talking about Sheldon on "The Big Bang Theory" or Brick on "The Middle" or Dr. Brennan on "Bones," TV is full of characters who almost certainly fit somewhere on the autism spectrum, even if none of them will ever utter the A-word. Without knowing it, casual viewers are being educated that autism is more than just Rainman counting toothpicks.
That education takes a big leap forward in HBO's "Temple Grandin," a glossy and glorified movie-of-the-week that takes an unblinking look at living with autism. The drama isn't about beating or curing an unbeatable and incurable condition, so much as learning to work with autism and nurture those who live with autism to meet their full potential which, in the case of Temple Grandin herself, turned out to be nearly limitless.
It's a beautiful and inspirational story turned into a movie that becomes increasingly formulaic as it goes along.
[Full review of "Temple Grandin," which premieres on Saturday (Feb. 6) on HBO, after the break...]
There's a lot of TV to watch this Thursday. HitFix looks at a few of the options
John Noble and Joshua Jackson of 'Fringe'
Thursdays are a pain, aren't they?
I have a dual tuner DVR and a magical East Coast Slingbox and I still find myself scurrying to Hulu and OnDemand on Friday morning making sure that I've caught everything that needs to be seen.
Tonight, for example, we have new episodes of "Burn Notice," "Community," "Parks and Recreation," "Grey's Anatomy" and "Bones." We get Kathy Bates guesting on "The Office," more time-travelling on "Vampire Diaries," plus a "Survivor" special on CBS to whet our appetites for next week's "Heroes vs. Villains" premiere. That doesn't even touch on shows that I don't watch regularly, but which draw big audiences, dramas like "CSI," "The Mentalist" and "Private Practice."
Fortunately, I got a handful of screeners for Thursday offerings, which helped me get a little viewing clarity and maybe it'll help you as well.
If you click through, I have a few spoiler-free thoughts on the "Fringe" midseason finale, a "Saturday Night Live" legend guesting on "30 Rock" and the season premiere of "The Sarah Silverman Program."
Like I said... Minimal spoilers...
Daniel Fienberg and Alan Sepinwall talk 'Lost,' 'Fringe' and the Super Bowl
Wednesday (Feb. 3) was a long morning of attempting to put up the second Firewall & Iceberg (wt) Podcast. Our first recorded version was well over 45 minutes long, covered a wide range of topics and, in addition to technical problems, neither Sepinwall nor I felt happy with it.
Verson 2.1 is shorter (just under half-an-hour), more topically limited (we discuss "Lost," "Fringe" and the Super Bowl) and still suffers from some of the same technical issues.
We're posting it, because not all podcasts can be perfect and if you want to have a regular podcast, you have to make it regular, even if not every podcast is a total winner. Let's just say we're still working out the kinks, especially since we weren't in the same room, like we were for Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 1.
The most important thing I want to note: The discussion of the "Lost" premiere -- complete with spoilers -- runs from the 2:00 mark to the 12:15 mark. If you haven't seen the premiere yet, you probably want to skip that part.
With that all in mind, sit back and try to enjoy Firewall & Iceberg Podcast No. 2a...
Gurinder Chadha's latest is no 'Bend It Like Beckham'
Sendhil Ramamurthy of 'It's a Wonderful Afterlife'
One of the great stories of this Sundance Film Festival, perhaps the biggest story in my book, has been the proliferation of female directors. From first-timers like Kate Aselton to established veterans like Nicole Holofcener and Lisa Cholodenko, from documentaries to thrillers set in the Ozarks, it's been impossible to categorize or compartmentalize the variety of films coming from distaff directors. It's an amazing trend and, given the youth of some of these helmers, a hopeful sign for the future of an industry that has yet to see a woman win a Best Director Oscar (knock on wood for Kathryn Bigelow).
My favorite film of the Festival (with two to go tomorrow) remains Debra Granik's "Winter's Bone," but that doesn't mean that female directors have had a perfect record at this Sundance. On Wednesday (Jan. 27) alone, I saw the lackluster "The Romantics," from Galt Niederhoffer, as well as the broad and silly "It's a Wonderful Afterlife," from Gurinder Chadha, both from the fest's Premieres roster.
Since my colleague Gregory Ellwood has already reviewed "The Romantics" -- he liked it more than I did, though I enjoyed Anna Paquin's performance and all of the beautiful people in the film (I'm already calling it "Sookie Getting Married") -- I'll hold off on that one for one of several digest review posts later in the week.
But a full review of "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" -- Think "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" meets "The Frighteners" by way of "Bend It Like Beckham" -- is after the break...
Two docs preach to the choir with very different results
'Casino Jack and the United States of Money'
Documentary filmmakers want to believe that documentaries can change the world, or at least that they can change opinions and reshape public perception. The reality is as muddled as the very definition of "documentary" itself, which is to say that the wider you expand your net -- Are "60 Minutes" or "Frontline" segments documentaries? -- the more likely you are to find an instance or two of tangible global impact.
But the reality is that for every "Thin Blue Line," which actually sprung an innocent man out of prison, you're looking at hundreds of films like "Fahrenheit 911" or even "Paradise Lost," where the film was meant to change things, but either made things worse or found that a film can only do so much.
The issue is that because documentaries are a niche art form (they shouldn't need to be, because documentaries are awesome), most ideologically inclined documentaries preach to the choir to such a degree that the people with oppositional viewpoints will either never see the docs in the first place, or else will be instantly turned off by unmassaged strident polemics. It's a truly great ideological documentary -- something like "Fog of War" -- that can be persuasive in a manner that offers enlightenment to people on both sides of the aisle. "Fog of War" made $4 million at the domestic box office.
I've had those thoughts before, writing essays on the subject in grad school doc courses, but they really hit home the past couple days, when I watched a pair of preach-to-the-choir Sundance docs, "8: The Mormon Proposition" and "Casino Jack and the United States of Money." Both docs are wildly partisan and, frankly, both espouse themes I agree with completely. One, however, is a solid film, the other is an amateurish mess and neither, alas, has much chance to reach a wide audience and "change the world."
[Brief-ish reviews of "8: The Mormon Proposition" and "Casino Jack" after the break...]
New Sundance doc takes a funny and humanizing look at Joan Rivers
Joan Rivers of 'Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work'
Because the media has made a punchline of Joan Rivers and because Joan Rivers has made a punchline of herself, I often find myself predisposed to disliking Joan Rivers. That means that I'm constantly having to reevaluate that predisposition, being reminded that before she was the poster-woman for bad plastic surgery and the brunt of easy jokes tinged with hints of age-ism and sexism, Joan Rivers paved the road for nearly every successful female comic of the past 40 years.
I had to do that kind of reevaluation when Rivers was one of the iconic names paying tribute to George Carlin when he posthumously received the Mark Twain Prize. I had to do that kind of reevaluation when Rivers did a Television Critics Association press tour panel and delivered 30 minutes of off-the-cuff zingers. And there was still more reevaluation that came from watching "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work," which is playing in the U.S. Documentary Competition at the Sundance Film Festival.
Directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg, "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" is a surprisingly sympathetic, and unsurprisingly funny, portrait of a woman who needs no introduction but, as I keep being reminded, often requires re-introduction.
[More on "Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work" after the break...]
Dan Klores' '30 for 30' documentary is one of the franchise's best installments
'Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks'
Reggie Miller is an NBA Hall of Famer. I have no doubt about that. He may not have won a title with the Indiana Pacers, but he won an Olympic gold in 1996 and was one of the greatest pure shooters in league history. However, because of the way the NBA Hall of Fame voting works, it's distinct possibility that Reggie Miller isn't a first ballot Hall of Famer, that he may need to wait a few years before induction in Springfield.
Sportswriters with any doubts about Miller's credentials should check out "Winning Time: Reggie Miller vs. the New York Knicks," which is playing out-of-competition at the Sundance Film Festival and will air as part of ESPN's landmark "30 For 30" series on March 14.
So why did I take a Sundance evening to watch a short documentary that I'll be able to watch on TV in three months? Well, first of all, I've loved the "30 for 30" series so far. Also, once I wasn't going to be able to get into "The Runaways" -- The line was too long and did HitFix really need one more opinion on Joan Jett and company? -- there was nothing that seemed like more fun than watching Reggie Miller and Spike Lee go head-to-head for 70 minutes.
Fortunately, the Dan Klores-directed documentary didn't let me down at all. It's one of the most purely entertaining films I've seen at Sundance this year and one of the best installments of the "30 for 30" series thus far.
[Fuller review after the break...]
Benazir Bhutto and American lottery winners get the Sundance documentary treatment
Benazir Bhutto of 'Bhutto'
My Sundance Film Festival Monday (Jan. 25) began with a pair of high profile entries from the U.S. Documentary Competition slate.
However, despite fascinating subject matter for "Bhutto" and favored Sundance director Jeffrey Blitz behind "Lucky," neither doc fully engaged me.
Brief reviews for "Bhutto" and "Lucky" after the break...
Think 'Hebrew Jack City' as Hasid Jews smuggle Ecstacy
Jesse Eisenberg of 'Holy Rollers'
Damn you, Joel and Ethan Coen.
Damn you for proving that a semi-mainstream film can be rigorously, intellectually and unapologetically Jewish without fetishizing the religion or sacrificing an iota of humor or drama.
Perhaps if "A Serious Man" hadn't been my favorite film of 2009, I wouldn't have been so disappointed by the hollowness and superficiality of Kevin Asch's "Holy Rollers," which had its premiere on Monday (Jan. 25) at the Sundance Film Festival.
With its easily encapsulated premise -- It's "Jew Jack City"! It's "How Chai"! If you're ultra-Yiddish, it's "Alterclockers"! -- and young stars like Jesse Eisenberg, Justin Bartha and Ari Graynor, "Holy Rollers" may be just different enough to attract distribution and deferential reviews.
Me, I kept thinking that given how unlikely it is that we'll ever be treated to another movie about drug-dealing Hasidic Jews, "Holy Rollers" is a missed opportunity.
[Full review of "Holy Rollers" after the break...]